the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘robots

I’m part of the blog tour for Madeline Ashby’s brand new Machine Dynasty novel, iD! Stay tuned for a guest post, and in the meantime, here’s a review.

iD by Madeline Ashby

published June 2013

where I got it: received eARC from the publisher (thanks Angry Robot!)

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Madeline Ashby set out to write a robot story from the robot’s point of view, and hooo boy has she succeeded. Robots don’t have feelings you say? they do if we program them to. Robots can’t feel pain you say?  They do if we program them too. And the robots in  this world are programmed to unconditionally love us, no matter we do to them. Kick a dog enough times and it learns not to come back. Kick a robot, and well, it’ll keep coming back because it’s been programmed to.

Why not just program the robot to protect itself?  Because Ashby is a professional researcher, and made the wise decision to place her story in our world, a world steeped in a history of robot fiction, Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, and all of humanity’s unspoken fears. No worries if you’re not familiar, Ashby gives you just enough background to stay afloat, and keeps back enough information that you’ll be frantically turning the pages, begging for more.

MachineDynastytweet

iD is the second book in Ashby’s Machine Dynasty series. Here’s the ultra quick summary of the world, and how we got there:  A wealthy Megachurch manufactured humanoid robots known as vN to help the humans who will be left behind after the Rapture. The Church goes bankrupt and is forced to sell the patents to other companies who continue to manufacture the Von Neumann (self replicating) robots. The robots are programmed with a failsafe, which keep them from harming people, and directly connect their well being with the well being of the people around them. The vN robots are used for all kinds of things,  everything from dangerous or boring jobs people don’t want to do, to surrogate family members and domestic servants, to the sex trade. When the human is happy, the vN is happy. simple as that.

The vN are not human. They were not born, they do not die, and they are programmed to obey us.

Read the rest of this entry »

vN by Madeline Ashby

published July 2012 from Angry Robot Books

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

I could so easily start every paragraph of this review with “but the best part of the book was. . .” because are just so many incredible aspects of this book – the characters and their lives, the surprising way this future came to be,  the dark subtexts, and the easy to understand technology, just to mention the ones that quickly come to mind. With nods to Blade Runner, Ai, and of course Pinocchio, vN is for anyone who is sick of waiting for the future to get here already. I recently had the honor to interview Madeline Ashby, and if there is anyone knows what the future  brings, it’s her. It wouldn’t surprise me if she edged out Cory Doctorow as my favorite futurist. She’s canny on the uncanny valley, and I think after reading vN you will be too.

First off, the vast majority of the book is from the viewpoint of the vN’s. Ashby immediately puts us behind the eyes of Amy, a five year old vN who has been raised by her vN mother and her human father. Her parents have chosen to raise her as close to a human child as possible, so along with all the other five year old kids in the neighborhood, Amy is in kindergarden at the beginning of our story.

But Amy isn’t a regular human girl. She’s a von Neumann self replicating humanoid. And it’s the “self replicating” part thats only the first brilliant thing in this book. By consuming the correct amount of feedstock, a vN can iterate – create a clone of themselves. Amy is a clone of her mother Charlotte, and every vN of their model has identical physical attributes. Conversely, should a vN want to stay child-size or not iterate, they must literally starve themselves. Amy has been starving since the day she was “born”. So when her grandmother threatens Charlotte, Amy’s first reaction is to disarm her grandmother by eating her.

Kindergardner eats Grandma is a bit of an opening shocker, no?

why yes, yes that was a bit of a shocker.  But a brilliant one.

Read the rest of this entry »

I was gone for a few days, and someone started giving away some of my Very Good Books?  As much as I love getting and receiving VeryGoodBooks, it’s also great to share them and pass them on when I’m done with them.  Maybe I should do these long weekends out of town more often!

While I was gone, I devoured Madeline Ashby’s debut novel vN, which hits bookstore shelves in late July.  I did truly devour it. I had planned to read it a little bit here, a little bit there, over coffee, enjoying my Mom’s garden, and nope. Once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. It was finished before I even got to my parents house. Alluring cover art and a fascinating premise of a future where self replicating humanoids live side by side with humans, marrying humans, being raised as human children, being told they are equal to humans, and well, sometimes not.

With nods to Bladerunner and AI, vN is what you should be reading if you’re canny on the uncanny valley. Suffice to say, I was thrilled when Ms. Ashby offered to answer a few questions for me. While you’re waiting for my review (it’ll post tomorrow if I can get my act together later today), let’s better get to know Madeline Ashby – Strategic Foresight Consultant, science fiction writer, lover of manga and anime, and the woman who proved you CAN do a masters degree on a science fictional topic. Twice.

L.R.R. You can find manga in any bookstore and anime on nearly any television station these days, but this wasn’t always the case. How did you get hooked on manga and anime? Where would you suggest someone new to those forms start?

M.A. I had friends in high school who were interested in anime. Specifically, someone who used the characters of Haruka and Michiru (Sailors Uranus and Neptune, respectively) on Sailor Moon to talk about her own sexuality. But she wasn’t the only one. I had friends who were into Evangelion and Utena and Fushigi Yuugi. I watched movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell with them. That pattern didn’t change in university or afterward. I still watch anime with friends.

If I were suggesting anime titles to anyone, I would ask them what genres they like in the first place. If they want science fiction with a side of deep characterization and pulse-pounding action, Cowboy Bebop. If they want a thoughtful slice-of-life dramedy with a side of tender romance, then Fruits Basket. If they want something totally surreal, then FLCL or Paranoia Agent. If they want something meta, something that comments on a genre from within that genre, then Madoka or Evangelion.

L.R.R. vN opens with a  beautiful family scene between Amy and her parents; her vN mother Charlotte, and her human father Jack.  They have a healthy normal family life. I realize this is a loaded question, but do you think this is a possible future for humanity – mixed couples of one human partner and one synthetic/humanoid partner?

Robots: The Recent A.I., edited by Rich Horton and Sean Wallace

published in 2012 from Prime Books

where I got it: purchased

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

For no good reason, I’ve never read much short fiction. I’ve had mixed luck with anthologies in the past, and that is a terrible reason to shy away from short fiction. Good thing I ran into Robots: The Recent A.I., an anthology so packed with my favorite authors that I felt like a kid in a candy store.  Authors such as Cory Doctorow, Cat Valente, Lavie Tidhar, Tim Pratt, Rachel Swirsky and more whipping up near and far future tales of an aspect of science fiction that is near and dear to my heart: artificial intelligence. How could I possibly say no? Most of these stores have already appeared elsewhere, but I had only ever heard of the Valente and Doctorow titles. Blazing big and bold on the cover is the word “robots”, but artificial intelligence is so much more that a metal machine that can have a conversation with you or play chess.

These are the stores about the new holy grail: creating an artificial intelligence that is so close to human we can’t tell the difference.   When an AI is so close to human you can’t tell, where is the line between ownership and freedom? Where is the line between loving someone and being programmed to love that person?  For a discussion about cold hard programming, where every decision comes down to a sharply defined one or zero, these are some mighty emotional and sensual stories. Some are told from a humans point of view, others are from the point of view of an AI. These are not your Papa Asimov’s robot stories, and it’s suddenly about more than playing chess.

It’s one thing to program a machine to believe that it is a human. It’s an entirely different thing to deal with the consequences. Frankenstein’s monster indeed.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Falling Machine (Society of Steam, book 1), by Andrew Mayer

published in May, 2011

Where I got it: received review copy from PYR

.

.

.

.

.

.

Being “Victorian”, most steampunk I’ve read takes place in Victorian England, so it was very refreshing to read a steampunk that takes place in the United States. Even better, to a city I’ve visited before, New York City.  Mayer has taken the hustling, bustling, industrializing, Brooklyn-Bridge-just-starting New York City of 1880 and added superheroes, villains, automatons, and mad scientists.

Sarah Stanton, daughter of famed industrialist Alexander Stanton, lives a life of privilege. Although she isn’t supposed to leave her house without a chaperone, and she can’t vote or own property or choose her own husband, Sarah has been allowed to study under the inventor Dennis Darby.  Darby, leader of the international group of superheroes known as The Paragons, and creator of the walking, talking, thinking automaton known as Tom, is Sarah’s favorite person in the whole world.  When Sarah witnesses Darby’s violent death, his dying words regarding the future and her place in it become her responsibility.

Read the rest of this entry »

I Robot, by Isaac Asimov

Copyright 1950, my copy is circa 1970.

where I got it: have had it nearly forever

Written between 1940 and 1950 the short stories in Asimov’s I Robot came before Hal9000, before Terminator, or Dr. Soong’s Data and Lore, the uncanny valley or The Lifecycle of Software Objects.  These were the days of Eniac, when the things that would be future computers took up entire rooms and required teams of programmers. Asimov envisioned a future were robots helped humanity do everything from everyday tasks to interstellar mining and solving the mysteries of the universe.

Although all the stories were written and published separately over the course of 8 or 9 years, the collection known as I Robot isn’t presented as a standard collection with a table of contents and breaks in between stories.  A journalist is interviewing the now semi-retired Dr Susan Calvin, famous robo-psychologist about her lifetime working with robots.  It’s the conversations between the journalist and Dr Calvin that weave the stories together.  Asimov is no stranger to this trick, weaving together bits and pieces that were written over years or decades with a common thread or character.

The stories are presented in chronological order, from the non-speaking robots of Calvin’s youth, to robots who could talk, to robots that could learn and think and eventually lie and later pass for human.  Like any programmable machine, a robot does exactly what we tell it to do, no more and no less.

So be careful what you tell ’em to do!

Read the rest of this entry »

Lavie Tidhar’s The Bookman is part alternate history, part steampunk, part rolicking adventure, part futuristic scifi, and like another steampunk I recently reviewed the twist starts fairly early, and if I mentioned anything at all about it, it would wreck the surprise. I’ll try my best to make this review as spoiler free as possible.

In a (very) alternate history London, the British Empire has been taken over by Les Lezards, a humanoid race of intelligent lizards that evolved parallel to humanity. The lizards treat the humans fairly well, and heavily promote science and technology over warfare. Even Jules Verne’s dreams have come true, and thanks to patronage by the Les Lezards, unmanned satellites and space probes have been launched. The only fly in the ointment is The Bookman. Almost a V for Vendetta type character, he stays to the shadows, orchestrating bombings and chaos around events sponsored by the Les Lezards.

Strange yes, but the human populace of Great Britain has adapted pretty well to being ruled by giant talking lizards, and for most Britons, this is how it’s always been. The Les Lezards have been the ruling class for a few generations at least. Royal lizards aside, Tidhar populates his book with characters both historical and fictional, life like simulacrums, social revolutions, and much in the way of punny deliciousness.

Read the rest of this entry »


Follow me on Twitter!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,511 other followers

Follow the Little Red Reviewer on WordPress.com

Archives

Categories

FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.